During the WWDC keynote on June 7, 2021, Apple detailed new features coming with watchOS 8 and upcoming changes to AirPods, Apple Home, Apple Health, and Privacy. Here’s a quick look at major changes.
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When Will watchOS 8 be Available?
Apple released a developer beta of watchOS 8 on June 7, 2021. The company plans to release the Public Beta of watchOS 8 in July 2021. The full, final release of watchOS 8 is expected to arrive in the fall of 2021.
As usual, you’ll need to update iOS first to be able to install it. watchOS 8 will be compatible with the following models, although not every new feature will be available on older models:
- Apple Watch Series 3
- Apple Watch Series 4
- Apple Watch Series 5
- Apple Watch SE
- Apple Watch Series 6
What’s New in watchOS 8
New Portrait Watch Face, Changes to Photos App
- Portrait Face: Apple seems especially proud of a new watch face based on Portrait mode photos pulled from your iPhone. It apparently uses depth data from Portrait photos to generate a multilayered moving effect.
- Other Photos Improvements: The Photos app in watchOS 8 now supports highlights from your Memories and Features Photos synced from your iPhone. It also introduces a new grid view, and you can now share photos via Messages and Mail directly from your Apple Watch.
“Breathe” Becomes “Mindfulness”
- In watchOS 8, the Breathe app will become the Mindfulness app. Along the way, it will gain new breathing visualizations, a new Reflect feature that helps you focus on a “short, thought-provoking theme,” and a running daily tally of how much time you’ve spent breathing and reflecting (with Mindful Minutes).
Support for Focus
- To match the introduction of the new Focus feature in iOS, iPadOS, and macOS, watch OS 8 will also support Focus, which allows custom notification controls based on context. You can also share your current Focus status in Messages from your Apple Watch when people try to contact you.
Changes to Sleep, Workout, Home, and Wallet in watchOS
- Respiratory Rate in Sleep: In watchOS 8, sleep tracking now tracks your respiratory rate by counting your breaths per minute. As usual, this new sleep data will feed into the Health app to help you understand trends over time.
- New Workouts: In Workout, watchOS 8 introduces two new workout routines—Pilates and Tai Chi, based on the 2000-year-old practice.
- Home App Improvements: In the Home app, you can now view the status of all your Home devices at the top of the screen, access your scenes more quickly, and see all your security cameras in a new Camera room. Also, Home will suggest smart actions to take that are related to Home events, such as suggesting unlocking a door if someone rings a connected doorbell.
- Digital Keys: The Wallet app in watchOS 8 now allows you to store a digital key to your home, your government ID, and other types of IDs and keys in your Apple Watch.
AssistiveTouch, Other Improvements
- AssistiveTouch: In a big development for accessibility, watchOS 8 now supports AssistiveTouch, allowing people to interact with their Apple Watch using gestures and an on-screen pointer.
- Other watchOS Improvements: watchOS 8 also includes a new Contacts app (for editing contacts directly on your Watch), severe weather notifications, setting multiple timers simultaneously, real-time headphone audio levels, and a Find Devices feature that helps you locate missing Apple gadgets like AirPods.
What’s New With AirPods
Starting with iOS 15, Apple is introducing several new features to AirPods. Here are a few of them.
- Conversation Boost and Ambient Noise Reduction: If you have AirPods Pro, Conversation Boost helps you hear the person directly in front of you thanks to beamforming technology. You can also reduce ambient noise with a slider on your iPhone.
- Announce Notifications: In iOS 15, Siri can read important notifications and shopping lists through your AirPods. You can turn the feature off by selecting “Do Not Disturb” on your iPhone. It’s also compatible with the new Focus feature.
- Find My Improvements: You can now find your AirPods Pro and AirPods Max using the Find My feature in iOS 15. It does this by reading a Bluetooth beacon and relaying it through the Find My network. A new proximity view in the Find My app helps you know when you’re getting close. You can also now receive a separation alert on your iPhone if you leave your AirPods behind.
- Spatial Audio with tvOS: This fall, Spatial Audio (Apple’s dynamic, three-dimensional sound technology) is coming to tvOS. It works with AirPods Pro and AirPods Max to track your head movements to alter sound realistically.
What’s New in Apple’s Home and Health Initiatives
- Apple Home System Improvements: Apple unveiled many new Home features spread over several devices, including a Home keys feature for unlocking your door with an iPhone or Apple Watch, Asking Siri on HomePod Mini to watch a show on your Apple TV, watching TV with friends thanks to SharePlay, personalized Apple TV watching recommendations for family members, and a new way to view cameras on Apple TV, and support for Siri in third-party HomeKit accessories.
- HomePod Mini as Speakers: You’ll soon be able to use HomePod Minis as wireless speakers for your Apple TV.
- Personalized Voice Recognition: HomePod Mini will support voice recognition of multiple people for customized voice commands.
- Walking Steadiness Metric: In Health, Apple announced a new Walking Steadiness metric that measures how evenly you walk based on data from Apple Watch and iPhone motion sensors.
- Lab Results: You can also now see interpretations of lab results in the Health app, trends of changing health metrics over time, and you can share your Heath app data with your doctor in a secure way.
- Health Sharing: You’ll soon be able to set up Health Sharing in Apple Health to share health info with trusted family members. It will also help you keep track of an aging parent remotely by viewing their health data.
What’s New in Apple’s Privacy Initiative
Apple goes out of its way to tell the world that it takes privacy seriously, and new privacy features across its devices seem to agree with that statement. Here are a few of the major new privacy initiatives and features Apple announced at WWDC 2021.
- Mail Privacy Protection: Mail now blocks invisible tracking pixels and hides your IP address and location when you open emails.
- App Privacy Report: On various Apple devices, you’ll be able to see a timestamped log of which apps access privacy-sensitive features over time. You can also see which third-party domains each app has contacted. This is big.
- On-Device Speech Recognition: Apple expressed a commitment to do as much speed recognition as possible directly on your Apple device (when possible with faster iPhones, for example) to prevent audio from being sent over the Internet. This also speeds up Siri’s reaction time in some cases.
- Account Recovery: In Apple’s new OSes, you’ll be able to add one or several recovery contacts for your Apple ID. You’ll be able to call a friend to get a code that lets you access your account if you get locked out.
- Digital Legacy Program: You’ll soon be able to set up a Legacy contact for your Apple ID that can access your account in the event of your death.
- iCloud+: Apple introduced a new service called iCloud+ that includes several major new privacy-related features rolled into one regular subscription fee.
- Private Relay (iCloud+): This VPN-like feature lets you browse Safari in a more secure, private way through multiple encrypted relays.
- Hide My Email (iCloud+): Apple generates a unique random email address that forwards emails to your personal email address with this feature. Make as many as you want and delete them at any time.
- Unlimited HomeKit Secure Video Cameras (iCloud+): Normally, iCloud users can only access five cameras per account. If you’re an iCloud+ member, that limit goes away completely.
This list of changes only scratches the surface of things to come, so keep an eye on iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey as well to see where Apple is headed in the future.